Written by Faye Minton (@fayechrltte)
A year into pandemic life, it’s pretty clear isolation has taken its toll on everyone. There’s only so much Netflix we can binge, and banana bread and Zoom quizzes got tedious quickly.
A combination of boredom and having too much time to overthink led me down a rabbit hole of astrology and tarot cards. To be honest, I felt lost and needed some guidance – a healthier way to direct my self-reflection than just voice noting my friends to moan. I think in a big way, it started out as a joke, with a few books and a deck of tarot cards being just another impulse purchase among many ASOS packages, but soon it began making sense. My perspective on a lot of things has shifted, and I think the journey of learning and getting involved in something new is exciting enough of a story to share.
While astrology and tarot are separate entities, a lot of spiritual people looking to delve deeper like to connect them because of their similar focus on nature and elements. I’ll start by trying to summarise each, and what makes them so appealing, but by no means do I claim to be an expert. I’m still learning, and having a lot of fun in the process.
Firstly, astrology isn’t just an Instagram meme format. We all know the ones I mean – the signs are assigned to any random person or object for likes, shares and clout. Its genuine premise is mathematical, using geometry and algebra to map the alignments of the stars and planets at any one time, and tracking the energies that brings to people on Earth. This might seem like a stretch to a lot of people – but think about the link people have made for thousands of years between women and the moon. Midwives and scientists have been investigating truths behind the theories – our menstrual cycles average 28 days, which mirrors with the average 29.5 day lunar cycle. Female emotions and erotic urges are also reported to be affected by the presence of a full moon. The moon is our closest celestial body and we’re only just starting to seriously consider its effect on us biologically and psychologically – without further study, how can we know that Jupiter and Saturn don’t have an influence too?
Back in the days of its ancient Greek development, astrologers were respected scientists and mathematicians, but with the growth of Christianity and the Englightenment of science, the focus on it strayed temporarily, until around the 1960s and 70s, in the ‘New Age’, or ‘Age of the Aquarius’. With the internet, especially, guides and tutorials are more readily available to those who want to learn, so nowadays you don’t have to be a scientist or mathematician to find yourself enveloped in astrology. It can be for everyone, especially if you find yourself in a welcoming social media community or listen to the right podcasts.
Tarot also has roots that stretch over hundreds of years. Unlike astrology, it isn’t mathematical, relying solely on the instinct and intuition of the reader. The tarot deck was first introduced in the 1430s in Italy. It consists of 78 cards, divided into 22 major arcana and 56 minor arcana. The major arcana represents key themes seen within people’s characters, which are intended to guide people on the ‘bigger picture’. Meanwhile, the minor arcana is divided into four suits – cups, swords, wands and pentacles – which are each said to represent one of the four elements and a different aspect of your personality and experience.
In pop culture, tarot is mainly a joke, or a way of fraud. Readers are always shown as women with dangly earrings and a crystal ball who make vague predictions about meeting a “handsome stranger”. I love Gavin & Stacey, but Nessa is my favourite example of this, because she doesn’t even really believe it herself: it’s just a random little way for her to make an extra fiver. These depictions might explain why a 2017 YouGov study found that people overwhelmingly reject any claims of truth in this field. It found that 47% of adults believe those who claim to be ‘psychics’ or ‘mediums’ were fakes, despite the fact that 40% of women felt they’d personally had a psychic experience. It’s telling that over 55s were found to be more sceptical than younger generations – perhaps because of the online communities and the use of social media arenas that I mentioned before.
I think this shows what we might already suspect – most people are naturally curious. Who isn’t interested in what their future holds? That’s what makes it appealing; it’s human instinct to want to know everything. A lot of people I’ve spoken to got into tarot without expecting much to come from it, just wanting to experiment and see what it was all about. They wanted to know how much tarot would help them know.
Those who do leave a tarot reading disappointed, I think, are the ones who expect to be told times, events. But it’s not black and white, so a ‘death’ card doesn’t really mean you’re going to die soon, just that you’re coming to an end of an era. If you take it for what it is – broader themes and patterns which can give you general advice about the direction you’re choosing to take your life in – you’re more likely to benefit from the experience.
When I say this started out as a joke for me, I mean that I was a complete sceptic. I’ve always had some sense of spirituality around me. My mum is very intuitive – she’s a big believer of birthstones and gems, too. It did seem outlandish, so I completely understand the eye rolls and scowls I’ve received after telling people I’m giving it a go. It can be embarrassing, having people undermine something that can actually be pretty personal at times. But it’s like with most things – what we think we know of it is usually a combination of misconceptions and inferences built from the very basic foundations of a much more complex greater structure.
In my previous experience, I only understood the surface level fact that my star sign is Capricorn, but I really didn’t think I fit the stereotype that I should be organised, sensible, bossy and maybe a bit emotionally detached. Beyond reading my own horoscopes in magazines out of curiosity, I’d only directly encountered astrology when it was spoken about ironically to stereotype people (“obviously he’s ghosting you, he’s such a Gemini!”).
But from looking closer, I’ve found out so much more – by analysing birth carts, for starters. Birth charts are essentially snapshots of the sky the moment you’re born. They’re divided into twelve houses, which the planets and signs align with – the house each astrological aspect falls into determines something about you. The sun signs that most of us know only tell a small section of our birth chart stories, which explains variation and why I probably don’t fit the Capricorn genotype.
I think this is another aspect of this form of spirituality that draws people in. When you think about yourself in detail, you do become more self-aware. Even if it’s just to prove a birth chart wrong out of scepticism, you have to assess your values, priorities, and how you would react to certain situations when you enter a sphere like this. It’s the internal reflection which I think becomes a comfort. It shows you that who you are in yourself is more than enough, and that you deserve to spend that time analysing all your little quirks.
A 2017 Pew report defines ‘New Age beliefs’ as including psychicism, astrology, reincarnation and spiritual energy’s presence in physical things. It finds that 29% of Americans believe in astrology, and 41% in psychics. This suggests it’s wider spread than most sceptics like to claim, if you know which communities to look among, and that there are people out there to talk to and seek advice from. If you do find yourself intrigued, you aren’t weird or on your own, which is a message that applies to so many other interests than this. It can feel a bit strange going into something with such a stigma attached, but gaining the courage to decide you don’t care about other people’s opinions is a huge part of the self growth battle. Anything that helps you learn about yourself, grow and appreciate the little things can surely only be a good thing.